Category Archives: Sport

World Cup 2010: so far, so poor

Five days into the world’s biggest and most anticipated sporting event, we are left hopelessly begging our television sets to give us more. More goals, more chances and just more excitement in general.

So far, 26 countries have scored only 20 goals between them in 13 fixtures. With Germany being the only team to have provided anything close to attractive and entertaining football, their impressive 4-0 victory over a rather chaotic Australian side on Sunday has been the only game to feature more than two goals. The rest has passed me by in an increasingly irksome fashion.

In a tournament that has so far seen an average of only one goal every 59 minutes and, what feels like a higher number of mexican waves than attempts on goal, what are the reasons for such a tedious display? and is there anything better on the horizon?

The Jabulani:

A giant model of the Jabulani. Photograph: Warrenski

Adidas’ new ball, designed specifically for this World Cup, has been partially blamed for the poor standard of football so far. And the pre-tournament fears that it was too light and did not fly properly, look to have been proved correct as Adidas have already sent scientists to South Africa to undertake further tests on the ball’s flight at altitude (better late than never…).

In my opinion, it is by no coincidence that the only team to have played well at the tournament so far, have been using the Jabulani in their domestic league (from which all the players in the national team hail) for nine months. I refer, of course, to Germany and the Bundesliga.

It is unclear what steps can be taken to counter the apparent problems. With replacing the ball entirely out of the question, it seems that we, the spectators, might have to wait until the multi-million pound footballers manage to work out how the hell to play with it before the standard improves. And that includes goalkeepers too. (mhm… ‘Calamity Green’).

Vuvuzela’s:

The buzz of the vuvuzelas has become customary, and seems to have replaced, or at least drowned out traditional cheering and singing in the terraces. Whilst their have been calls for a ban on the traditional South African horns, event organizers have so far refused to oblige.

It would be careless and naive to suggest that the vuvuzelas are the cause of poor quality football. Although I have noticed that they do contribute to the air of boredom which has unwelcomely crept into my World Cup viewing.

Imagine, if you will, a situation where you are forced to watch a man doing nothing but pace up and down in a straight line for ninety minutes. Pretty boring eh? Now imagine if that man was constantly humming loudly to himself in a tiresome, monotonous manner. No longer is it just boring, but it begins to materialize into a natural and aggressive annoyance.

I have no doubt that vuvuzelas contribute to a magnificent atmosphere within South Africa’s impressive stadia. But I fear they do not lend themselves to the hundreds of millions watching on television.

Over reaction?

Perhaps I am over reacting. After all we are yet to complete the first round of group matches and it could be argued that everything up until now can simply be termed a ‘cagey opener’. However, when presenters, pundits and commentators all begin to use phrases like “it’s just been absolutely dyer” (Andy Townsend – Half time in the Ivory Coast, Portugal match) and “I’m not expecting very much from this game in terms of attacking play” (Mick McCarthy before Italy’s first group game against Paraguay on Monday night) you get the feeling that, so far, the tournament has not quite conformed to the script.

In fact the only thing that has unfolded in line with many people’s pre-tournament expectations is England’s disappointing opening result against the USA on Saturday, and the unsurprising negativity that continues to drone on in the national press as a result.

Still, there is hope. We have reached the time in the tournament when five-time world champions Brazil begin their challenge. And, as is proclaimed every four years at this stage: “the World Cup hasn’t really begun until Brazil kick off their first game.” Everyone is hoping that something special is around the corner. With the South Americans playing a little-known North Korean side this evening, surely even a dodgy ball cannot scupper what promises to be a bucket load of World Cup goals.

Also, with European champions and hot favourites for the tournament Spain in action tomorrow against Switzerland, there is feeling that this World Cup might just wake up as we approach the end of the week. And not before time. Always look at the positives. It cannot get any worse.

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Top five: sports stars behaving badly

In an age when we hear more about sports stars’ sordid sexual deviances than their performances on the pitch, the fact that our heroes’ misbehaviour is not always linked to their married lives can be easily overlooked.

John Terry's recent affair was pasted all over the media - photograph Paul Blank

Prevalence of such stories in the media is at an all-time high. It can be demonstrated by the fact that the recent scandal enveloping John Terry appears to have subsided this week, just in time for fresh allegations to be directed at his club team mate Ashley Cole.

Last weekend we were reminded that exposing misbehaving sports stars does not necessarily require delving into their sex lives. Wales’ flanker Andy Powell was arrested for drink driving just hours after his team’s thrilling six nations victory against Scotland at the millennium stadium.

It later emerged that the 28 year-old had stolen a golf buggy from the team hotel and taken it for a spin on the M4. Powell has since been charged by police and dropped from the Wales squad.

In light of this incident I have compiled a list of the top five sport stars behaving badly, and there is not an affair in sight.

1. Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor

Glasgow Rangers duo Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor were banned from playing for Scotland for life in April last year, after engaging in an all night drinking session with fans whilst on international duty.

The pair were originally dropped to the bench for the next game but were filmed putting two fingers up to the camera during the match.

Their actions ultimately led to lifetime bans and to Ferguson being dropped as Ranger’s captain.

2. Stephen Ireland

In 2007, the Manchester City midfielder asked to leave international duty with the Republic of Ireland  because his grandmother had died.

After flying the player home on a private jet, the Irish FA discovered his grandmother was still alive. Ireland told them it was his other grandmother, which was also found to be a lie.

The player eventually came clean and admitted that his wife had recently had a miscarriage and wanted him to come home from international duty to keep her company.

The 23 year-old has not appeared for his national team since.

3. Andrew Flintoff

Flintoff had been warned about his behaviour before

After an opening match defeat against New Zealand at the 2007 cricket world cup, the England team and coaches went out to a night club.

All-rounder Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff was one player who ended up going slightly ‘overboard’ as he required being rescued from the sea in the early hours of the morning. He had strayed the beach in a pedalo.

Freddie was fined and banned from England’s next match against Canada after it was revealed this was not the first time he had been warned about his behaviour.

4. Michael Vick

In 2007, popular American football player, Michael Vick was arrested for his involvement in an inter-state dog fighting ring.

The former Atlanta Falcons quarterback had not only be financing the operation, but had also taken part in the execution of underperforming dogs by hanging or drowning them.

Whilst he was bailed to await trial, Vick tested positive for marijuana in a random drugs test.

In December 2007 he was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. Upon his release, Vick returned to the NFL on a two year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

5. Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas is a three time NBA all-star and currently plays for Washington Wizards. On Christmas Eve last year, a changing room argument revealed that Arenas was storing firearms in his locker. He was arrested for breaching Washington’s gun control laws.

A few weeks later a pre-game stunt in which 28 year-old Arenas pretended to shoot down his teammates on the court resulted in an indefinite suspension.

He is due to be sentenced next month.

By Nick Higgins

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10 Reasons Why Liverpool Should Not Sack Rafa Benitez

rafa and torres

Rafael Benitez and Fernando Torres (Courtesy of Aditya Sriwasth)

Liverpool’s nightmare start to the 2009/10 Premier League season went from bad to worse at the weekend when they lost 3-1 to Fulham at Craven Cottage and had two players dismissed late on in the game.

Having now lost six of their last seven matches, only the brief delight of beating arch rivals Manchester United has given the team respite from heavy criticism.

This week does not look like getting any easier for the Reds as they travel to Lyon for a crucial Champions League clash in which they must hope for a draw at the very least. Lyon are always tough opponents but Liverpool’s task is made even more difficult with an injury list running into double figures. Unfortunately this list includes their two main attacking threats, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres being ‘doubtful’ for tonight’s match.

Benitez is Losing Support

Given recent results and the cut-throat nature of Premier League football, it comes as no surprise that manager Rafael Benitez was booed by fans at the weekend and is facing calls to be sacked by the nation’s blood-thirsty press.

As a Liverpool fan I think this issue has to be addressed from a more logical viewpoint and so have put together a list of ten reasons why Benitez should not be sacked.

  1. There is no other high calibre manager who is currently either out of work or, willing to leave his position at another club to replace Benitez and inherit the mess at Liverpool .
  2. Benitez was the mastermind behind the greatest comeback of all time in the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan. Trailing 3-0 at half time, Liverpool were looking dead in the water. Benitez must have pulled out an inspirational team talk similar to that of Al Pacino in the film Any Given Sunday as the Reds eventually won the match on penalties after a thrilling second half comeback.
  3. Added to the triumph in 2005, Rafa’s track record is littered with successes both with Liverpool and with his previous club Valencia. The Reds won the FA Cup in 2006 and finished 2nd in the Premier League last season, just four points off the Champions Manchester United.
  4. One good thing about Rafa is that he does not seem to get on with the owners of the club Tom Hicks and George Gillett. This may seem like a reason to sack him rather than a reason to spare him but it is certainly my view that the American owners should be replaced and that it is their lack of funding to improve the squad which is to blame for this seasons performances, not Rafa’s tactics.
  5. Benitez has bought a lot of Spanish players during his time at Anfield. Many of whom claimed that Benitez was a huge factor in their decision to sign for the club, sometimes when other big clubs were also chasing them. A certain Fernando Torres illustrates this point very well. If Rafa is sacked then I fear many players may look elsewhere and there is a real risk that the squad would be seriously disrupted.
  6. It has been mooted in the press in recent weeks that Real Madrid are looking to lure Benitez to the Bernabeau to replace under fire coach Manuel Pellegrini. Now, as a matter of principal, do not go giving things to Real Madrid. They do not have the best track record for appointing the right manager but they have been linked to Rafa since his days as a coach there.
  7. This one is nice and short. It became clear last season that Rafa annoys Sir Alex Ferguson, surely he is worth keeping on just for this reason alone.
  8. On the strength of last season’s performances Benitez signed a new, long term deal with the Red’s. This would make it extremely expensive to sack him. Indeed there have been reports in recent weeks that it could cost the club up to £20 million to terminate his contract. Not ideal for a club in our financial situation.
  9. In my view, the reason why Liverpool are having such a difficult start to this season is due to the economic downturn coupled with huge amounts of foreign investment in top flight football around the world. In the Summer Liverpool were forced to accept a bid for Xabi Alonso from the cash rich Real Madrid. When Liverpool received the money it was used to pay off loans taken out by the owners of the club rather than being used to replace playing staff which had been lost, leaving the team short in many areas.
  10. And finally…He has got great facial hair.

All in all, I think I have put forward ten…well, nine good arguments why Liverpool should not sack Rafael Benitez. Having detailed all the arguments above, I remain concerned about tonight’s trip to Lyon and even next Monday’s match at home to Birmingham City. If Liverpool lose both of these matches, I fear we might also be losing a great manager.

By Nick Higgins

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Anyone For Cheese?

The other evening I settled down to watch one of the many films I have bought and subsequently forgotten about. It was ‘Dodgeball’ in which Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller assemble teams to compete in the National Dodgeball Championships to win a $50,000 cash prize.
In the film, the sport of Dodgeball is discovered through a magazine called ‘Obscure Sports Quarterely’. This got me thinking, what other obscure sports are out there?

During my research I came across a number of weird and wonderful sports including: Conkers, Stone Skimming, Wife Carrying, Underwater Hockey and Extreme Ironing. Bizarrely, the sport I found most intriguing was one I had heard of before, Cheese Rolling.

cheese rolling 2

People chasing cheese (courtesy of SoGlos.com)

Once-a-year cheese enthusiasts gather at the top of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire and a large wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is set rolling down the hill. Up to 20 competitors then hurl themselves over the peak in an attempt to beat the cheese to the finishing line at the bottom.

Casualties

The hill is incredibly steep and the rough ground means staying on your feet is nigh on impossible. As a result injuries are very common. Indeed whilst browsing the official Cheese Rolling website, I found some photographs of this years event, next to which was the following caption.

“The 2009 races saw 58 casualties, 11 people were taken to hospital in ambulances, at one time there was a short delay to the competition as all three St John Ambulances were off site. Thirty five of the injured were competitors, four were catchers at the bottom of the hill and nineteen were spectators”

Now, this is all well and good because the cheese-rolling is an annual event in which people from all over the world take part and they do so knowing the risks. But a more sensible voice inside me is crying out why?

Winning the race gets you the cheese. Second place gets you ten pounds and coming in third means you win a fiver. Not exactly what I would call an incentive to haphazardly throw myself down a hill in pursuit of a lump of dairy.

cheese rolling

Injuries are common (courtesy of SoGlos.com)

Cheese Rolling seems like one of those games when a mate turns to you and says, “How much would I have to pay you to leg it down a steep hill and try to beat the cheese to the bottom, knowing full well you cannot stay on your feet and there is a good chance you will break your neck?” Well, I am certainly not interested in the cheese and I can assure you that I would want more than a tenner.

Even more obscure than chasing cheese?

Cheese rolling comes close to winning the title of the World’s strangest sport but I think one other just pips it to the post, Bog Snorkelling.

I found the Bog Snorkelling website after telling an Australian friend about this blog entry. In relation to bog snorkelling, he said proudly “It’s massive in Australia!”

The website details all you wish to know about bog snorkelling, training regimes and rules. Essentially it started when a small group of people went swimming in a boggy trench in Wales with a snorkel and flippers.

One thing I have learned from researching obscure sports, is that there is a whole world of them out there. When I first found out about these sports, a lot of them seemed like banter gone a bit too far but after researching further I found that all of them have world championships. This shows that some people must really care. To these people I say, fairplay to you.

Doing something that has been done by so few before you is a success whichever way you look at it. It may be a far cry from Premier League football or a Wimbledon final but the existence of obscure sports gives everyone the potential to become world champion. And have a bit of fun in the process. Even if it means risking life and limb in pursuit of cheese.

By Nick Higgins

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